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HARVARD COLLEGE LIBRARY
MANYA* COLLEGE LIBRARY
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1874, by
Joun F. Trow & Son, PRINTERS, 205-213 EAST 12TH ST., NEW YORK.
S the title which, for want of a better, has been
given to this book does not explain itself as lucidly as could be wished, it will be acceptable to the reader, perhaps, if the Editor attempts here what it was necessary for him to do in his own mind at the very beginning of his task, namely, to frame a correct or at least intelligible definition of what is meant by vers de société. Fortunately, as he discovered after the present collection was nearly completed, such a definition has been furnished by Mr. Frederick Locker, himself probably the most sympathetic student, as he is certainly second to none as a writer, of this species of verse. In the Introduction to his “Lyra Elegantiarum " he says : "Lest any reader who may not be familiar with this description of poetry should be misled by the adoption of the French title, which the absence of any precise English equivalent renders necessary, it may be as well to observe that vers de société need by no means be confined to topics of artificial life. Subjects of
the most exalted and of the most trivial character may be treated with equal success, provided the manner of their treatment is in accordance with the fol. lowing characteristics. Genuine vers de société and vers d'occasion should be short, elegant, refined, and fanciful, not seldom distinguished by chastened sentiment, and often playful. The tone should not be pitched high ; it should be idiomatic, and rather in the conversational key ; the rhythm should be crisp and sparkling, and the rhyme frequent and nerver forced, while the entire poem should be marked by tasteful moderation, high finish, and completeness ; for, however trivial the subject-matter may be, indeed rather in proportion to its triviality, subordination to the rules of composition and perfection of execution should be strictly enforced. The definition may be further illustrated by a few examples of pieces which, from the absence of some of the foregoing qualities, or from the excess of others, cannot be properly classed as vers de société, though they may bear a certain generic resemblance to that species of poetry. The ballad of John Gilpin,' for instance, is too broadly and simply humorous ; Swift's * Lines on the Death of Marlborough,' and Byron's “Windsor Poetics,' are too savage and truculent; Cowper's My Mary' is far too pathetic; Herrick's lyrics to · Blossoms' and 'Daffodils' are too elevated ; Sally in our Alley' is too homely, and
too entirely simple and natural ; while the • Rape of the Lock,' which would otherwise be one of the finest specimens of vers de société in any language, must be excluded on account of its length, which renders it much too important. Every piece se. lected for a volume of this kind.cannot be expected to exhibit all the characteristics above enumerated, but the two qualities of brevity and buoyancy are absolutely essential. The poem may be tinctured with a well-bred philosophy, it may be gay and gallant, it may be playfully malicious or tenderly ironical, it may display lively banter, and it may be satirically facetious; it may even, considering it merely as a work of art, be pagan in its philosophy, or trifling in its tone, but it must never be ponderous or commonplace. .
“ The chief merit of vers de société is, that it should seem to be entirely spontaneous : when the reader says to himself, “I could have written that, and easily too,' he pays the poet the highest possible compliment. At the same time it is right to observe, that this absence of effort, as recognized in most wo:ks of real excellence, is only apparent; the writing of vers de société is a difficult accomplishment, and no one has fully succeeded in it without possessing a certain gift of irony, which is not only a much rarer quality than humor, or even wit, but is altogether less commonly met with than is sometimes